Randall Collins. The Sage Handbook of Sociology. Editor: Craig Calhoun, Chris Rojek, Bryan Turner. Sage Publication. 2005.
Sociology and philosophy are connected in at least three ways. First, genealogically, sociology branched off from the lineages of philosophers; and up through the present many of the most influential sociologists have been trained as philosophers. Second, philosophical issues are often raised inside sociology, especially epistemological probings and methodological attempts to legislate the character of sociological knowledge; there is also much exposing of and polemicizing over value questions, making sociology a semi-concretized version of philosophical ethics; and metaphysical questions are raised over the nature of social being, individuals, mind and action; in short, sociology has been a terrain for arguing philosphical questions in both activist and analytical modes. Third, reversing the relationship, philosophy has become a target for sociological research, theorizing the social conditions under which intellectuals have created philosophical topics and which shape what they think about them. The sociology of philosophy is related to earlier and parallel enterprises in the sociology of knowledge, sociology of scientific knowledge, and sociology of culture, as sociologists have aimed to explain all the productions of human consciousness.
And thus we come full circle. Given that sociology branches from philosophy, that philosophy protrudes its questions into sociology, and that sociology has turned back again to analyze philosophy as a social pattern, we can say that the sociology-philosophy relationship is a multiply reflexive one. Providing many layers of reflexive consciousness from one component upon another, the sociology—philosophy nexus exemplifies the hypermodern intellectual situation.
Genealogies and Cross-Overs
Sociology originated historically as a specialized branch breaking off from the older role of the philosopher. Early intellectuals were philosophical’ in the sense that as unspecialized thinkers they dealt with questions at considerable levels of generality and without regard for boundaries among topics that would later be appropriated as distinctive territories. During times of transition many philosophers jettisoned the old scholarly identity for newer ones such as natural philosopher’ or mechanical philosopher’—terms that in the nineteenth century became transmuted into ‘scientist’; the eighteenth-century branching called moral philosophy’ eventually became such fields as economics, statecraft/political science and psychology. During such times, it was repeatedly claimed that philosophy was disappearing, having been transformed into more advanced content. Descartes and his compatriots in the mid-1600s claimed that what they called the ‘scholastic’ philosophy of the old church-dominated universities was now superseded by the mechanical philosophy of new mathematical science. Auguste Comte in the 1840s held that cultural history passes through the stages of theology, philosophy and positive science, of which sociology was the latest and crowning achievement. Ordinary language philosophers of the mid-twentieth century spearheaded by Wittgenstein and Austin attacked existing philosophy as a repository of conceptual mistakes to be cleared away; the chief merit of philosophy was that in dying it gave birth to new disciplines such as linguistics and cognitive sciences.
Philosophy has not disappeared through these transformations, but has usually gone on to a new round of creative innovation, digging more deeply into the core territory that becomes revealed as more empirically oriented disciplines have branched off. As philosophy ceased to claim knowledge of the natural world in the same manner as its empirical researchers, it found fruitful dimensions of argument by dealing with conceptual questions at a more abstract level, and with increasingly higher standards of criticism; philosophy has come to take as its turf the most reflexive intellectual enterprises, examining both its own standards of knowledge, and the knowledge claims of all the surrounding disciplines. Its genealogical children, in leaving home, continue to support their philosophical parents, in part because their activities as research scientists, mathematicians, historians, economists and sociologists now provide topics for philosophers who have stayed on the old home base to criticize and examine. Although Cartesians and Baconians held that philosophy had been superseded by mathematical or empirical research, there was room for moves like Berkeley’s and Hume’s to critique the very basis of belief in scientific findings, and thence for countermoves like Kant, with its chain of consequences for opening up new philosophical terrain. This is a characteristic long-term pattern; the generations following Descartes were highly creative in the abstract core of philosophy, as the new epistemological sharpening opened up innovations in metaphysics as well. In the same way, later branching between philosophy and the social disciplines did not merely empty out the last contents of philosophical wine cellars, as Comte had proclaimed, but provided a richer field of interaction between new social-scientific disciplines and the increasingly sophisticated reflections of philosophers.
Sociology, as a self-conscious discipline taking as its turf the social, studied by all empirical means in conjunction with theoretical ones, branched off relatively late, even by comparison to other social sciences. Sociology had a complicated genealogy, with its canonical ‘founders’ coming from a variety of fields. Comte trained as a mathematical scientist at the École Polytechnique; Lester Ward was employed as a geologist; Herbert Spencer was a journalist who found his materials in the evolutionist circle around Darwin; Pareto was an engineer, who shifted to mathematical economics and then devised a sociology to fill in the irrational side left incomplete by the rational-utilitarian side of his work. It is striking that the most influential sociological theorists were those who were trained by philosophers, even as they added other ingredients through their networks of teachers or early career contacts. Consider the ‘big five’: Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Simmel and Mead.
Marx was intellectually initiated around 1840 in the circle of Young Hegelians. His teacher (Bruno Bauer) and colleagues (Feuerbach, Stirner, Ruge, D.F. Strauss) were Hegel’s pupils; his collaborator Friedrich Engels had attended the lectures of Schelling. Marx began in one wing of a movement in the late 1830s/early 1840s, breaking away from the prior generation of Idealists, above all by criticizing the Idealist defense of theology, while transforming the line of argument into a critique of social conditions. Since intellectuals find their distinctive positions—and reputations—by playing off of each other, Marx and Engels went on to critique their fellows (in The German Ideology) for remaining too close to a theological world-view, and eventually formulated their own radical slot as dialectical materialism. They were able to do this by combining some aspects of Hegelian (and Fichtean) philosophy—the logical clash of thesis, antithesis and higher synthesis; history as the successive moments of alienation of the spirit from its potentiality for liberation—with quite different intellectual streams in English economics and French radical politics.
Marx and Engels made their move to materialism at just the time that a larger movement sweeping the German academic world did the same; in the late 1840s and 1850s German scientists revolted against Naturphilosophie, the Idealist theories of natural phenomena such as electricity, chemical attraction, and living beings; some took an extremely strong stance that only material forces exist and that all spiritual phenomena are to be reduced to them through scientific research. This movement (whose most radical leaders were the scientists Büchner and Moleschott) acquired a material base insofar as German universities now split off a Naturwissenschaftlisches Fakultät (Faculty of Natural Science) with its own chairs independent of the Philosophische Fakultät. Materialist reductionism was a central strand in the writings of Marx and Engels; it was only in the 1930s when their early writings from the Young Hegelian milieu were rediscovered that the Idealist themes began to come to the fore again. And it was in the 1960s and thereafter, with a new generation of intellectual radicals, and in connection with philosophical ingredients from existentialism and phenomenology, that Marx became the canonical referent for a spiritual rather than economic liberation, as his texts became taken as grounds for erotic, gender and ethnic insurgent movements.
Max Weber, educated in the 1880s, inhabited a very different milieu. He was a pupil of Wilhelm Dilthey and the colleague of Wilhelm Windelband and Heinrich Rickert; which is to say, he was in the midst of the Neo-Kantians who had revived philosophy in Germany after the materialist onslaught. The Neo-Kantian tactic was to delineate the spheres between academic disciplines according to each’s logic of investigation; a typical distinction was between the Geisteswissenschaften (the spiritual or humanistic sciences) and the Naturwissenschaften (natural sciences), regarded not as a difference in content but in the concepts through which contents are delineated. Weber’s methodological writings for the social sciences (written 1906–1919, translation in Weber, 1949) were straightforwardly Neo-Kantian. Sociology belongs to the Geisteswissenschaften and thus its contents are subject to interpretation through categories of meaningful human action, not to causal explanation in the mode of the natural sciences. Weber found his distinctive subject matter in adjudicating the Methodenstreit (the struggle of methods), which pitted German-style historical economics against English and Austrian formal economic theory. In good Neo-Kantian style, Weber held that the theoretical concepts of formal economics could be validly used but only as ideal types for the analysis of human action, with the understanding that these are only lenses through which the observer formulates a one-sided picture of the infinite particulars of human history. Weber created his own sociology as a set of these one-sided ideal types (such as bureaucracy vs. patrimonial organization; class vs. status group) as a means of understanding how the capitalist economy as presented in economic theory could have historically developed.
Weber advocated a value-free stance in scholarship, as opposed to taking a partisan political stand; his point, again in the Neo-Kantian spirit, is that the value-free stance is an orientation on the part of the observer that serves to define a disciplinary subject matter; not that another way of slicing up the world is impossible, such as by political orientation, but conversely one cannot claim that all thought is intrinsically politicized. For Weber these are choices among observational stances. After the 1960s, Weber’s choice became an unfashionable one, but other aspects of his interpretative methodology became widely advocated. Other sociologists developed Weber’s substantive work on capitalism and other topics, jettisoning the Neo-Kantian methodology; the divergence in interpretations of Weber himself illustrates the point that the same subject matter can be developed in different manners by different observers.
Georg Simmel also was trained in the Neo-Kantian movement; he shared the same teacher—Dilthey—with Weber. Simmel also was a pupil of Franz Brentano, who held that consciousness always intends or posits objects (the ‘intentionality of consciousness’), a position developed by other Brentano pupils (including Husserl) who formulated phenomenology. Simmel, who taught for most of his career in low-ranking lectureships in philosophy (in contrast to Weber, who became a professor of historical economics), ranged widely across the fields of culture and aesthetics, demonstrating in Neo-Kantian fashion their formal properties. Simmel was much less of a full-time sociologist than Weber became. Whereas Weber applied Neo-Kantian philosophy mainly in epistemological writings on methodology, Simmel applied it to sociology substantively. For Simmel sociology is the study of the formal properties of sociation; thus he wrote about the forms of conflict, the web of association (what would now be called network analysis), and the formal properties of groups with differing numbers of members. This work later became detached from its philosophical framework when it was developed by empirical researchers.
Durkheim was trained by philosophers but in contrast to his German sociological contemporaries advocated a sharper break between the fields, even reversing their positions so that sociology would pass judgment on philosophy. In his generation, the French academic system was undergoing reform to eliminate religious control; spiritualist philosophers associated with political conservatism were opposed by secularist reformers, among whom Durkheim took a leading position (Collins, 1998; Fabiani, 1988). Nevertheless, he was trained at the elite École Normale Supérieure by the neo-spiritualist philosopher Émile Boutroux, who also taught Durkheim’s classmate Henri Bergson; young Durkheim went on to Germany to study with Wundt, who had just founded psychology as a laboratory science and thereby exemplified the pathway for breaking off a social science from philosophy. Durkheim determined to do the same with sociology; his emphasis on the sui generis character of sociological explanations and his opposition to explanations in terms of psychological or biological conditions was part of his strategy for creating sociology as an academic discipline independent of these rivals.
Of all the founding sociologists, Durkheim was most concerned to turn the tools of sociology back upon the philosophy from which it had emerged (Durkheim 1898–1911/1953). In The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912), he held that sociology can resolve the conflict inside philosophy between empiricism in the style of the British (for example, Hume), who grounded all knowledge of reality in individual sensory experience; and Idealism in the style of Kant, which privileges the screen of mental categories through which all reality is observed. Drawing upon ethnographic comparisons of religion as in the tribal rites of Australian aborigines, Durkheim noted that the Kantian categories of the understanding—time, space, causality—mirror the differences among forms of social organization. The Idealists are right in seeing categories as external and prior to individual experience; but the empiricists are wrong in taking the isolated individual as the starting point of perception and reflection on the world. The categories of perception and the reality of experience are given simultaneously, because those categories arise through social experience. The collective rites that make up the practice of religion exemplify the moments of intense interaction that generate symbols representing membership in the group; these symbols also become the ingredients of world-views, and mental tools which individuals can carry with them as their own minds.
Durkheim’s position, establishing the connection between collective symbolism and social structure, was developed by a series of colleagues, pupils and grandpupils, including the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, Marcel Mauss and Claude Lévi-Strauss, a lineage which eventually became the structuralist movement. French structuralism in the 1950s and 1960s, in conjunction with semiotics and phenomenology, took a quasi-idealist turn rather different from Durkheim’s own emphasis on the material reality of human bodies interacting upon an ecological terrain; for the structuralists and especially their post-structuralist successors, the structural code determines social action, even acting as a deeply constraining form of power (a position argued by Foucault 1969/1990). For a lineage of Durkheimian sociologists, on the other hand, it is the social structure of human interaction that determines symbolic codes and their changes (notably, on the macro level, Swanson and Mary Douglas; on the micro level, Goffman and Collins). Durkheim’s argument has also been revived as a position solving epistemological problems inside philosophy by Anne Rawls (2005).
George Herbert Mead, the most influential American social theorist, spent his entire career as a philosophy professor. He grew up intellectually in the midst of the pragmatist movement, as a protégé of William James, Royce and Dewey (and thus as grandpupil of Peirce). Mead combined this pragmatist lineage with his own connections with the new experimental psychologists, including Wundt in Germany, and Mead’s militant young colleague at Chicago, John B. Watson, the founder of behaviorism. Idealism (exemplified by Royce, and the early work of Peirce and Dewey) had been prominent in America at the time that American universities were breaking free from the old religious colleges, since Idealism was acceptable as a transition from biblical Christianity to a spiritualized quasi-secularism; in the following generation, as secularism came to dominance, pragmatism developed as a further transition from spiritualism to science. Psychology proved attractive to the pragmatists (James and Dewey were both active in the field) because it could be interpreted as a scientific field in which the subject was nevertheless active and dynamic rather than fixed and static, and in which the spiritual qualities of the human mind were vindicated scientifically. Mead developed a theory of the human mind as evolving from the naturalistic interaction of human animals; symbolic language emerges from gestures indicating intentions to act, and thought developed as internalized conversation between the parts of the self and a Generalized Other.
Mead was primarily concerned not with constructing a sociology but with using his social theory of mind to answer long-standing philosophical questions (e.g. Mead, 1932,1938). For example, the existence of universals can be explained without either inducing them from particulars or presupposing them as Platonic essences. Universals exist in the natural world because human beings make particular experiences equivalent by marking them out with recurrent symbolic gestures towards them; it is the capacity to think against the frame of a Generalized Other which brings universals into existence. Further levels of human meaning emerge; no longer limited to physical interaction among bodies, humans who have acquired their own internal conversations and Generalized Others now interact by imaginatively taking the role of the other and interpreting one’s own actions from the other’s viewpoint.
Mead’s work was little published during his own lifetime, and was generally ignored by most psychologists and philosophers, who were then taking other directions. It was a sociologist, Herbert Blumer, who assisted in Mead’s courses at Chicago, and after Mead’s death in 1931 formulated a sociology which he called symbolic interactionism. Blumer developed this as a theory and methodology for empirical research; the movement became prominent in the 1950s and 1960s as an alternative to narrowly positivisitic quantitative research methods promoted by incursions from the Vienna Circle. On the methodological side, ethnographies and sensitivity to meaningful interpretations of human actors should take precedence over quantitative measurement and depersonalized objectivity. On the theoretical side, symbolic interactionists emphasized ongoing process and the potential for emergence as against static structures and restraints, especially as the latter were formulated in functionalist theory. Symbolic interactionism thus appealed to social reformers and to the generation of political activists of the 1960s, although its rather straightforward empiricism and its growing detachment from philosophical roots made it vulnerable to being upstaged by newer intellectual movements in the following decades.
More recent sociologists strongly influenced by philosophy include Harold Garfinkel, a student both of Talcott Parsons (and thus oriented to the theoretical problems of Durkheim and Weber) and of Alfred Schutz (concerned with applying Husserlian phenomenology to the social world). Garfinkel’s ethnomethodology (1967), with its sometimes startling methods for piercing the taken-for-granted constructs of everyday life, may be regarded as a hybrid, carrying out philosophical investigations by means of extremely detailed empirical research. Major French sociologists, such as Pierre Bourdieu and Bruno Latour, were also trained in philosophy, giving their works a claim of wide theoretical generality and an ongoing engagement with philosophical issues. This combination is far more characteristic of the Parisian intellectual community than of American sociologists, who tend to be better funded for empirical research and thus to work in narrower disciplinary specializations; British sociology, which was institutionalized in the academic world rather late (mostly after the 1960s), has imported orientations from both French and Americans.
Finally, we should note that a number of individuals who are read as sociological theorists have no training in sociology and little acquaintance with sociological research. For example, Jürgen Habermas is a German philosopher trained by a pupil of Heidegger, but also by members of the Frankfurt School whose Marxist orientation introduced sociological themes. Habermas’s work, such as his well-known theory of communicative action (1984), is the attempt to solve the epistemological problem of truth, and the ethical problem of egalitarian democracy, by importing both Anglophone language philosophy and sociological concepts of thinking (and therefore truth-claims) as a process of social interaction. Unsurprisingly, Habermas’s theory has been criticized by micro-sociologists for its idealized picture of communication and its crude misunderstandings of the work of Goffman and of the ethnomethodologists. Postmodernists such as Lyotard (1979) built on a series of internal debates within structuralism by importing and widening the sociological notion of a post-industrial society. The border between philosophy and sociology has thus been crossed at many points in the past, and likely will continue to be so in the future.
Philosophical Issues in Sociology
In the 1980s and 1990s it became fashionable to say that borders and distinctions do not exist; but this is merely a form of rhetoric, at best a claim made within intellectual politics that hybrids should predominate over local specialists. The fact that borders are social constructs makes them none the less real, as realms of human action; in this case they are separations among regions in intellectual attention space, organized around departments with distinctive sources of funding and independent control over careers. In Bourdieu’s terms, we can say they are distinctive regions in the field of intellectual production. From the point of view of the sociology of knowledge, it is hardly surprising that different organizational bases should promote differences in intellectual practice. Let us remind ourselves of what these differences chiefly are.
Sociology has its own substantive theories and research practices. Although philosophy lends a particular emphasis to abstract questions, these are not equivalent to theory per se. Sociology is organized around its own topics the study of which constitutes its own social practice: stratification, organizations, social interaction, social movements, population, conflict, and more specialized institutional areas (sociology of the family, education, crime, race and ethnicity, culture, and many others). Some of the theories used in analyzing these topics were originated by sociologists who had training in philosophy, but Weberian, Durkheimian, symbolic interactionist, neoMarxist and other forms of sociological theory have developed far beyond the philosophical tenets of their founders. And even in Weber and Durkheim, for example, we can distinguish between their philosophical tools, and their substantive theories (such as Weber’s theory of the institutional conditions for rationalized capitalism, or Durkheim’s theory of the division of labor). Sociological theory-making is an ongoing enterprise that develops according to its own local conditions.
Contrast this distinctively sociological terrain with the topics at the core of philosophical attention space:
- Epistemology, the theory of knowledge, investigating and questioning truth.
- Metaphysics, the theory of being and its modes, the general treatment of all that might be claimed to have reality.
- Value theory, including ethics, aesthetics and other questions about realms of obligation or evaluation.
Philosophy is a meta-discipline, in the sense that it can reflexively examine the contents or methods of all the other disciplines; in so doing they are not necessarily intervening in those disciplines, since philosophers raise their questions on a high level of generality and in relation to their own field of discourse, which implicitly relates any local question in a particular discipline to a larger philosophical tradition.
From time to time philosophers like Kant have made the move of claiming that their philosophical intervention was necessary to shore up the empirical sciences and save them from fatal flaws. But those flaws are ones which philosophers have ferreted out for purposes of arguments in their own attention space. There is no reason to believe that eighteenth-century science would not have carried on with its substantive discoveries whether Kant had given it epistemological ‘foundations’ or not. In the same way, neither sociologists nor members of any other research field are constrained to listen to what philosophers tell them; pragmatically, members of any intellectual community are capable of generating their own methods and producing interesting findings and theories out of their own invention. Garfinkel’s ‘breaching experiments’ (1967), which launched ethno-methodology; or Goffman’s innovative style of using micro-sociological observations (e.g. Goffman, 1961, 1974), were certainly not what was prescribed in methodological textbooks, and indeed violated the philosophical standards prevailing at the time (under the influence of logical positivism); such examples show that philosophical rules are likely to be constraints that must be broken or ignored by sociologists pushing the frontiers of knowledge. As a social enterprise, sociology (or economics, or biology, etc.) has its own resources and would not falter as an organized intellectual activity if philosophers were to disappear (and vice versa).
Border crossings only have meaning insofar as they are few; most practitioners stay within local attention spaces, thus setting up a contrast by which we can pick out the hybrids who do the border crossing. In the previous section I have listed how some of the classic sociologists imported philosophical orientations into the substantive topics that are the empirical focus of sociology. It has not been only thinkers of star reputation who have brought in philosophical issues; this has happened repeatedly, and in recent decades sociologists have frequently argued over issues that are palpably more akin to philosophical issues than to the core topics of sociological research. Now we seem to face a contradiction: can it be the case, as I have argued, both that sociology is well off going its own way without direction from philosophy, and also that philosophical intrusions have shaped some of the most important sociological developments?
Let us separate the question into the influence of epistemological, metaphysical and value theory issues in sociology.
First, epistemological issues in sociology have most typically come in the form of methodological arguments as to how sociologists should do their research. In the 1940s through the 1960s, American methods textbooks were written from the viewpoint of logical positivists, often émigrés from the Vienna Circle; in defense of their own methods, symbolic interactionists struck back by formulating their own philosophical justification; their successors have drawn implicitly on the German Idealist, Neo-Kantian and phenomenological traditions. In The Sociological Imagination (1959), C. Wright Mills issued a manifesto for the right of sociologists to invent their own methods according to the problems they face, thereby repudiating the claim of methodologists and meta-commentators of any stripe to legislate what sociologists do. That is, sociological methods are inherently neither interpretive, subjectivist and focussed on the standpoint of the actor, nor materialist, structural, quantitative or objectivist. The sociologist’s one rule is ‘get on with it!’ following whatever theoretical and empirical pathways seem fruitful; the best justification comes by finding out where they lead.
Mills’s advice, essentially a form of pragmatism, still holds in the face of claims at epistemological legislation inside sociology that have been promulgated in recent decades. Post-structuralist and postmodernist philosophers have become influential in many academic disciplines, among other reasons through their adoption by some (but not all) branches of feminist and other insurgent liberationist movements. In this way the stance has become popular that the search for theoretical ‘foundations’ is an outdated historical relic, and that knowledge is necessarily situated, local, perspectival and (in the eyes of some positions) transitory. It is too little recognized by its partisans that the intellectual sources of this poststructuralist position are a particular blend of philosophical traditions—notably the Hegelian revival which took place in French thinking from the 1930s onwards, along with existentialism, phenomenology, a rather dogmatic Freudianism and the non-materialist aspects of Marxism—and that these are merely one possible choice of philosophical positions. The postmodernist move to exclude systematic theorizing, comparative research, formal modeling and other such options are another case of trying to impose restrictions from ‘on high’. Sociologists engaged in their own research and their own theorizing have no obligation to obey restrictions, whether from positivists, interpretivists, phenomenologists, postmodernists, or anyone else except those who are willing to argue it out alongside them on the substantive level of their research.
The epistemological origins of the classic sociologists were not their enduring contributions to sociology. Weber’s ideal type method may have helped to orient his own work—and even more likely have given him cover from the prevailing philosophies of the time, under which he could pursue wide-ranging substantive theories based on world comparisons; what Weber turned up in these researches has been transposed into parts of sociology far removed from his Neo-Kantian origins. It is much the same with the research traditions flowing from Marx, Mead and others. The bottom line on epistemological intrusions into sociology is: sometimes they open up new orientations on how to develop sociological work—as in the case of the phenomenology imported by Garfinkel which became an arena of ethno-methodological research with its own emergent theories such as conversation analysis. When epistemological orientations open up new areas, they are creative; when they are restrictive and exclusionary, they are drags upon the possibilities of sociological discovery.
Secondly, metaphysical issues in sociology concern the nature of social being, and thus the kind of concepts implicated in sociological theorizing. Among such issues have been debates over the primacy and reality of micro and macro; and over functionalism versus the motives of individual actors (the latter having evolved from Homans’s critique of Parsons into present-day rational choice theory). These have been debates over the ontological reality of individuals versus groups. Further variants have been concerned with longdistance and long-run pressures and structural interconnections vis-à-vis the exigencies of local situations. In these debates, metaphysical errors are often charged against opponents, especially the reciprocal errors of reification (by opponents of high-order structures) and of reductionism (by opponents of low-level independent units). Other issues in social ontology are the existence and explanation of mind, consciousness and culture, vis-à-vis contrary theoretical conceptions which explain such phenomena in terms of ideology, material interests and resources, emotion, evolutionary genetics, or ecology. Given these ingredients, it has been possible to construct a wide mixture of theoretical positions including intermediate ones such as the multi-dimensionality of embodied social action (Rojek and Turner, 2000). The range of positions is too wide to be surveyed here, let alone pull out their philosophical resonances and offer comments on their lines of development and possible future resolution.
In answer to the question raised above, whether philosophical intrusions in sociology are creative or restrictive, the answer is different for metaphysics than for epistemology: whereas epistemological intrusions have often been more restrictive than facilitating, metaphysical issues have broadened the range of sociological theory. A caveat still holds: metaphysical issues in sociology have often been argued out in polemical tones, as if the correct stance on social ontology determines what our truths will be. This overstates the influence of high-level conceptualization in drawing boundaries around the thinkable and the unthinkable. The ongoing process of sociologists engaged in research and in formulating and reformulating theories to encompass their findings has often outstripped whatever metaphysical conceptions may have been popular even a few years earlier.
Finally, issues of value theory. These include issues of cui bono, who is and who should be the beneficiary of sociological research; stripping away putative ideological biases in theoretical conceptions; the ethics of the research process itself as it looks into or interferes with the lives of its subjects; and the issue of whether sociological theory should (or indeed must) be politically éngagé or whether it can stand aloof from partisan viewpoints. Sociologists who argue such issues are typically unreflexive about the sources of their own motivations. (On the historical development of moral reflexivity generally, see Collins, 2000b.) Ultimately, moral stances do not rest on reasoned argument; they arise as commitments in particular kinds of social communities (but see also Joas, 2000). The moral claims for activist and engagé sociology appear to arise from participation in social movements (although this has not been adequately studied sociologically), or in social service professions. On the other side, commitments to the value of theorizing and research for their own sake, for the advance of sociological knowledge or for the excitement of discovering new visions of the social world, also arise in social communities: those movements of intellectuals fighting it out over the center of action inside an intellectual attention space.
The activists are right in saying there is no such thing as an uncommitted, value-free position; but they are blinkered in thinking that the only kinds of commitments and values are those of political activists, and that the political realm, or the practice of social services, are the only social arenas in which values can arise. The concern for finding truth, or more open-endedly, for pressing the frontiers of intellectual discovery, are also value commitments. Competing value commitments, as Weber (following Rickert) noted, struggle over whose project will dominate; this is the case today, and has been the case throughout much of the history of sociology. Once again, it is possible to make a plea for a non-exclusionary stance: rather than decreeing that only political value commitments should exist, or that only the pure scholarly goals are of value, we might find it desirable to have a sociological community which is tolerant of the variety of such value stances among its members.
From Sociology of Knowledge, through Sociology of Science, to Sociology of Philosophy
Philosophy maybe analyzed as a social institution: as a network of persons interacting and reproducing a pattern of discourse across the generations. The sociology of philosophy is an offspring of the older sociology of knowledge, and a cousin of its other contemporary branches. In Durkheim’s sociology of knowledge, the structure of society as a whole shapes the ideas and beliefs of its members. We may narrow the analysis to the social community of philosophers, to show how their changing organization produces corresponding changes in philosophical ideas. Another version of the sociology of knowledge stems from Marx and Engels’s (1846/1947) thesis that the production of ideas is determined by the material means of intellectual production. Marx and Engels were concerned to show that class ownership of these means of intellectual production ensured that the dominant ideas would be an ideology favoring the dominant class (for the debates over this issue, see Abercrombie et al, 1980); but the question of who owns or controls these means is separable from the more fruitful proposition that the material organization of intellectual and cultural life is what shapes ideas. Mannheim (1929/1936) went on to elaborate a model of the various kinds of ideologies corresponding to the interests of different social groups, while holding out the possibility for a ‘free-floating’ intelligentsia who acquire their own social bases (as in educational systems) and thus are able to provide objective, ideology-transcending ideas.
One branch of research came to focus on the sociology of science. Initially this was a study of the community of scientists, analyzing their norms, forms of organization, competition over original discoveries, and their outpouring of publications (Hagstrom, 1965; Merton, 1973; Price, 1963/1986). In the 1970s, an ambitious program calling itself ‘sociology of scientific knowledge’ or ‘SSK’ argued that sociology should explain not only the social context in which knowledge is discovered but the contents of that knowledge itself. David Bloor (1976, 1983) and Barry Barnes (1975) formulated the ‘Strong Programme’ which held that the task of the sociologist of science is not merely to show how social factors lead to the production of ideological or false knowledge, but to true knowledge as well (the ‘symmetry principle’). That is to say, sociology is not merely a study of how social factors bias the process of scientific discovery, but how the formulation of truths is socially shaped. Sociology thus acquired an ambitious research program, not merely to show the external social conditions which allow the autonomous quest for truth to proceed, but to go inside the laboratory like an anthropologist visiting a strange tribe without assuming any knowledge of the validity of its beliefs, seeking the social conditions by which its truth-beliefs are produced. This was first, and most famously, done by Latour and Woolgar (1983).
SSK raised in an acute form the philosophical or meta-theoretical problem of reflexivity. If sociology can investigate the social conditions for scientific truth, what does this say for the character of its own sociological truths? Is SSK (and indeed all of sociology) self-undermining (Ashmore, 1989)? It is too little appreciated that self-reflexive statements may sometimes be self-exemplifying rather than self-undermining. To say ‘I am lying’ is a self-undermining paradox (and ancestor to famous paradoxes of early twentieth-century logicist philosophy such as Russell’s paradox); but to say ‘I am telling the truth’ is reflexive but self-reinforcing.
Two notable solutions to the problem of social reflexivity of truth are Latour (1987) and Fuchs (2001). Latour notes on empirical grounds that scientists are oriented in part towards the research frontier, in part towards past bodies of codified knowledge. The first, which Latour calls ‘science in the making’, is a mode in which scientists are contentious among rival hypotheses, and denigrate their opponents by accusing them of using political tactics to win adherents, funding and research equipment. At the frontier, science is epistemologically open and relativistic. Once a victor has been established in the struggle, however, the black box is closed so that the sordid details of how the discovery had been socially organized are no longer looked into; the idea-contents become items of accepted knowledge, uncontroversial ‘facts’ which now are propagated in textbooks, taught to students and displayed as achievements to lay people outside the scientific community. This is ‘science already made’. (See also Kim (1996) on the role which second-level scientists play in adopting one research program or another and thus determining the victor.) In keeping with the symmetrical principle of the Strong Programme, Latour does not express an epistemological preference between ‘science in the making’ and ‘science already made’; both are observable social patterns, and the most comprehensive and defensible statement one can make about science is that it has two faces, relativistic and socially constructive, but also consensual and objectivistic, and that given items of knowledge pass from one to the other as the research frontier moves onwards.
Stephan Fuchs’s (2001) solution may be called a network-location theory of the observer. It is the stance of observers occupying different positions within social networks that determines which distinctions they make. Tightly connected and self-enclosed networks see the world in terms of essences, sharply defined realities; loosely connected, decentralized networks see the world as fluid and relativistic; in between these extremes, category schemes have greater or lesser essentialism or relativism. Over time, networks may transform, so that new, contentious, open networks become solidified into cores which make fixed realities out of their beliefs; conversely, the cores of old networks can break apart and confident realism can shift toward greater relativism. A second key point is the relation between the network in which an observer is located and the network that is being observed; when these locations are close together the interpretations are nuanced and individualized, but when they are distant the interpretations become simplified essences.
A case in point is the ‘science wars’ of the 1990s between the new constructivist sociology of science allied with radical feminism, standpoint theory, and deconstructionist literary theory on one side, against defenders of the truthfulness, realism and impartiality of the natural sciences on the other (Gross and Levitt, 1994). Fuchs points out how the debate is carried on in terms of dichotomous essences, using popular ideologies on both sides: the defenders of science presenting its idealized Goffmanian frontstage, its attackers tearing away the facade and declaring there is nothing there but another form of privilege and arbitrary power. Both sides are debating over stereotypes; science is not a fixed entity but a variety of fields and sub-fields with different levels of network tightness or looseness, hence promoting scientific ideas which vary in the realism or relativism with which they are regarded by the scientists themselves. It is the same with technology: here again there is a continuum, historically ever-changing, between the tightly encapsulated techniques in stable networks that work reliably, and technologies in transition where the networks of machines and their users are in flux. For Fuchs, science can neither be replaced with social activism nor reduced to physical objects or brain neurons; these are endpoints of different kinds of network structures, but the world of science is a large number of networks in flux between the extremes.
Sociology of Cultural Production
Another contemporary offshoot of classical sociology of knowledge is the sociology of cultural production. The most comprehensive theoretical statement, and also the one supported by a program of research, is Bourdieu’s The Field of Cultural Production (1993). Bourdieu views each branch of culture as the product of a social field, that is, a community of specialists with mutual relations among themselves—whether these be intellectuals, artists, dramatists, couturiers, or other cultural specialists. The internal structure of a field of cultural production is shaped along two main axes. One is the ‘horizontal’ axis of relative autonomy or heteronomy of orientation; that is, the extent to which practitioners are oriented internally towards each other and their own standards, problems and criteria of prestige, or externally towards their audiences, consumers and patrons (that is, ‘lay’ people who are not themselves cultural producers). The second axis is the ‘vertical’ ranking between the prestigious elite whose works have been canonized as classics of art, literature, science, philosophy and the like, as against the avant-garde of the new generation struggling to displace them.
The structure of a field of cultural production is not reducible to the surrounding class structure (which Bourdieu calls the ‘field of power’), since it operates by its own specific logic; cultural products are not simply ideologies reflecting class interests. Nevertheless, Bourdieu gives a qualified Marxian conclusion, arguing that there is a ‘homology’ or correspondence between the structure of relations inside the field of cultural production and the structure of class relations outside; there is an attraction between dominant social classes and canonized cultural works inside the field, and between subordinated classes and the avant-garde struggling to revolutionize culture. As an instance, Bourdieu (1975/1991) attempts to show that Heidegger’s philosophy, although formulated in terms of ingredients internal to the generational conflict within the German philosophical field (a phenomenological avant-garde vs. the Neo-Kantian establishment), corresponded to the concerns of the lower-middle class disgruntled by modernization who allegedly made up the supporters of the Nazi movement. Bourdieu’s principle of the homology among fields is an extension of structuralist theory (promoted by Lévi-Strauss and ultimately deriving from Durkheim) pressed into service of a quasi-Marxian theory of ideological hegemony.
Intellectual Creativity as Struggle to Divide a Limited Attention Space
Collins’s Sociology of Philosophies (1998; for a précis, see Collins, 2000a) shares Bourdieu’s focus on a self-oriented field of cultural producers, which Collins describes as an ‘attention space’. But Collins parts company with Bourdieu in rejecting the adequacy of connecting internal intellectual positions to external class ideologies via a principle of structural homology among fields. The basis of Collins’s argument is an historical analysis of the networks of masters and pupils, colleagues and rivals that make up the internal structure of the communities of philosophers across major periods of world history: ancient and medieval China; medieval and early modern Japan; ancient and medieval India; ancient Greece; the medieval Islamic and Jewish world; medieval Christendom; and modern Europe through the early twentieth century. The structure of an attention space is its division into a number of factions according to a ‘law of small numbers’ which shapes the positions intellectuals occupy as they struggle among themselves for a limited amount of recognition available at any one time. In philosophy, innovators are not generally disprivileged avant-gardes situated on the margins, but typically come from the heart of the previous elite generation, ‘revolts within the citadel’. Classes and political power do not influence ideas so much by correspondence to ideological interests, as by their intermediating effects on changes in the material conditions supporting intellectual life, which force wholesale rearrangements in the factions dividing up intellectual attention space.
The theory of intellectual attention space may be summarized in the following points.
1. Intellectual creativity is concentrated in chains of personal contact. Those who become famous philosophers typically are pupils of those already famous, and/or friends or colleagues early in their careers of those who will also go on to achieve fame. It is typical for a group of young intellectuals to move up together, like the young roommates Hegel, Schelling and Hölderlin who made contact with Fichte at the beginning of his career and went on to become the most famous figures in a closely networked movement of German Idealism and Romanticism; or again, the young Sartre, with his friends de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Canguilhem, Aron and Lacan, whose lively discussion group became the core of existentialism and its offspring movements in France. From a network viewpoint, prior creativity appears to spark off further creativity, giving a strategic advantage to persons who start off close to the prior centers of intellectual action. This tendency towards network inheritance is mitigated by two further social patterns: creativity is concentrated not only in vertical chains from generation to generation, but horizontally among groups of contemporaries who collectively spawn intellectual movements; and old intergenerational networks are sometimes broken off as changes in material conditions open up opportunities for new networks to form. Sometimes the latter pattern predominates over the former, as we see in point (6) below.
2. Creativity is a collective product of the emotional energy of persons intensely oriented to each other face-to-face. That is to say, what intellectuals on their way to becoming successful get from each other is not merely cognitive, the passing along of privileged cultural capital, but emotional, an excited buzz of attention upon the forefront of arguments and opportunities for developing new ideas. Success in intellectual creativity cannot be simply a matter of being the recipient of received ideas, no matter their canonical status; to preserve such ideas would make one an epigone, not an independent thinker constructing a reputation in one’s own right.
3. Creativity is organized by oppositions; this is why circles of young friends later break up into rivalries as they become successful. The evidence of the historical networks shows this oppositional pattern: comparably important philosophers appear in the same generation, like Parmenides and Heraclitus formulating the first abstract metaphysical positions in Greek philosophy but with opposing notions of being as immutable or inherent flux. This pattern of simultaneous opposing creativity shows the inadequacy of the notion of a Zeitgeist, since it is rivalry rather than unity of belief that generates creativity.
Opposition both gives the emotional energy of creative intellectual action, and shapes the contents of philosophies. The intellectual world is a sphere of arguments, not of conclusions; it is where opportunities for rivalries can be exploited within a common focus of attention that creativity occurs. The creative individuals are those who are energized by taking up part of that limited attention space where the buzz of intellectual life is most intense. The network pattern of intellectual life—the vertical connections from one generation to the next between persons successful in dominating the attention space; and the horizontal connections of concentrated friends and rivalries—explains not only who will be successful but also the content of their ideas. It is a theory of who will think what thoughts under what conditions structuring the intellectual community as it moves through historical time. Collins’s sociology of philosophies thus makes the same move that the SSK did in moving from the sociology of science in the generation of Merton (showing the institutional supports which allow scientists to operate, but saying nothing about what ideas are produced, except in the case of distorted, false ideas), to a position in which the content of ideas—scientific knowledge—is also to be explained.
In the theory of struggle over attention space, the content of what philosophers produce at a given historical moment is shaped by these two structures of the network: vertically, a thinker is part of a stream of discourse coming down from the past, containing sets of concepts and modes of argument which can be recombined in various ways to yield new ideas. Horizontally, each thinker has to feel his or her way into a distinctive niche in the attention space constituted by arguments among contemporary rivals; this is done by finding a dimension in which one’s ideas negate the main ideas of a rival. Rival thinkers implicitly feed off of each other. This tacit dependence reveals yet another reason why successfully creative thinkers appear so close to each other in the networks of personal contact: they need to know, swiftly and intuitively, what tacks each other is taking so that they can shape a position that maximizes attention and emotional energy by sharpening the lines of opposition most fruitful for elaborated argument. Intellectuals operate under the ideology of seeking truth, and this is not an inaccurate way of characterizing the guiding ideal or symbol of their search for arguments which are autonomous from any practical or other external loyalties except those of the argumentative community; but their success at formulating a socially believable truth depends upon picking a highly visible fight, especially in the eyes of their followers and successors.
4. ‘Golden Ages’ of widespread creative outbursts occur in a distinctive network pattern: where several rival circles intersect at a few metropoles. This pattern is found world-wide, in ancient Athens and Alexandria for Greek philosophy, as in medieval Baghdad and Basra at the height of Islamic philosophy, or at the great monastery-university Nalanda in medieval India where the several Buddhist sects debated their Hindu counterparts; similar patterns are found for the multiple schools at Kyoto and Edo in the efflorescence of Tokugawa Japan, and again at the creative moments in the European West. Conversely, structural extremes are deadly for philosophical creativity: concentration of all resources in a single faction stifles innovation; so does dispersion of intellectual life into a large number of centers, especially when these become closed orthodoxies as in the proliferation of universities in the European late middle ages divided into fortresses of Thomists, Scotists and Nominalists.
5. The ‘law of small numbers’ holds that the number of positions which can be successful simultaneously, within the same generation, is between three and six. This applies both to the number of distinctive intellectual positions that become stably recognized—the labels by which, as the dust clears from the initial chaos of argument, intellectuals come to define what positions they belong to and what they are reacting against—and also to the network organization of the field, the number of intergenerational chains which successfully keep up their eminence from master to pupil. The law of small numbers is a structural shaper and limit of creativity. The lower limit of three (occasionally as low as two) comes from the oppositional nature of creativity; creating a solitary new position, although logically possible, appears not to be sociologically possible. Historically, we see that when bureaucratic orthodoxy, or some other form of extreme monopoly on intellectual life, limits the number of intellectual factions to one, creativity dries up. But where social conditions allow two new positions to be generated by rivalry, it is always possible to craft a third position (‘a plague on both houses’); given the richness of the streams of ideas coming down from previous generations, it is possible to put together many variants, by combining elements and negating some of them. But there is a structural limit to how much elaboration of rival positions can be done; the attention space is limited, so that when there are more than six positions, the surplus positions become lost in attention space—they fail to become recognized. We see this empirically in the history of intellectual networks: in generations where the number of networks splits into more than six schools, the following generation experiences failure of lineages so that the successful ones are brought back down to the limits of the attention space.
As we see in the following point, the upper and lower limits of the law of small numbers generate structural tensions which shape the periods of creative change in intellectual life.
6. There is a two-step causality from the external social surroundings of intellectual life to the changes in contents of philosophies. The first level of causation is what changes the material bases of intellectual life, as when religions are founded or disappear, expanding monasteries provide positions for thinkers, or universities or publishing houses are created. Such changes are caused by larger and more remote shifts in political and economic structures which foster new religious movements, new class audiences for reading books, new government demands for educated officials. These changes do not simply and directly result in ideologies reflecting the dominant social classes or political factions; instead they modify resources for intellectual competition over local attention space, sometimes opening up possibilities for new factions and new lines of opposition, sometimes by closing down existing factions. When the number of factions is changed by these shifts in material bases, the entire attention space is transformed.
Thus the second layer of social causality: strong positions divide, weak positions unite. Schools of thought which are strongly supported by material conditions expand to take up as much of the attention space as is available; thus if a rival position is destroyed, space is opened up for the remaining, victorious position to split into rival factions. We see this, for instance, in medieval India when the Buddhist monasteries lost their economic patronage and eventually were driven out of India; the victorious Hindu thinkers now moved into Buddhist intellectual space, taking over Buddhist philosophical positions, and subdividing among themselves into new rivalries. This pattern has occurred repeatedly in all parts of the world. Structurally, reducing the number of factions below the upper limits of the law of small numbers fosters splits among the remaining factions to fill up the available slots.
Conversely, weak positions, those which are losing their material bases, tend to huddle together into a defensive alliance. When in the later Roman empire Christianity with its coherent networks for training priests began to threaten to gain religious dominance as well as to command the intellectual attention space, the pagan schools ended their rivalries and formed a grand alliance, through the synthesis constructed by Plotinus. Another version of a structural inducement to synthesis occurs when upper limits of the law of small numbers are strained by a proliferation of positions; the impending failure of many positions to find followers motivates synthesizers who reduce the number of factions through combining them on a new level of abstraction; this is what Aristotle did in the generation following the proliferation of schools founded by the many pupils of Socrates. Thus there are two forms of structurally induced creativity: the creativity of factionalizers, splitting off new positions in an expanding intellectual space, and the creativity of synthesizers, reducing the number of positions and shoring up weakening positions by combining them.
This shows another inadequacy of the Zeitgeist model of intellectual history as a reflex of changes in the economic or political circumstances of the entire society. There is creativity both on the way up and the way down, in times when material resources are expanding, and when they are contracting; indeed, these often proceed simultaneously and symmetrically, as when one side of the intellectual field (the Christians) are expanding and the other side (the pagans) are contracting. Creativity does not simply consist of the ideas of the social ‘progressives’ (in contrast to Bourdieu’s model, in which innovators are supposed to be a disprivileged avant-garde rebelling against an older Establishment). Because of the oppositional nature of innovation, leading innovators are sometimes conservatives. In their own eyes they oppose the intellectual and social changes of their times; they may even come from a faction inside the intellectual field which holds out for religious tradition or scriptural orthodoxy, or which opposes the self-conscious rationalists and innovators. But because they are situated in networks at the core of the intellectual action, they combat new ideas along lines of sophisticated opposition generated by the entire attention space; conservatives have often been innovators against the letter of their overt ideologies by raising acute epistemological critiques of their rationalist rivals, or by capping those arguments by moving to new levels of abstraction and reflexivity.
Innovation in Asian intellectual history has frequently been carried out in the guise of claiming to restore old orthodoxies; striking examples are the Neo-Confucian metaphysicians in Sung Dynasty China, the Ancient Learning and National Learning schools in Tokugawa Japan, and the Mimamsakas (the most reactionary of the Hindu Vedic factions) who pioneered a new level of epistemological acuteness in medieval Indian philosophy. In the West, we find a pattern of conservative innovators from Rousseau to Heidegger. Given the recombinations of cultural capital from generation to generation, it should not be surprising that the ideas of such thinkers should be picked up by successors (in the case of Heidegger, by the French existentialists and deconstructionists) on a different side of the ideological spectrum. Once again we see the inadequacy of an external-reflection sociology of knowledge, such as explaining Heidegger by his affinities with Nazism.
7. The network theory of attention spaces is integrated with a micro-sociology of thinking. Ideas are symbols of social membership. Durkheim held this is the case for membership in an entire society, but in the case of intellectuals we may say that their specialized ideas and modes of arguing are emblems of membership in particular intellectual factions—just those factions which divide up the attention space. Add Mead’s theory, that thinking is internalized conversation; and the empirical observation that intellectuals internalize their ideas from their discourse with their teachers, friends, and rivals. Creative thinking, then, is the rapid formulation of new concepts and strings of argument. The creative individual may be alone at that moment when ideas pop into one’s head’, but his or her ideas are loaded with membership connotations for factions in the intellectual attention space. Thinking is making coalitions and oppositions in the mind. This shows another reason why face-to-face connections among persons active in the core of attention space are so prominent in the early lives of creative thinkers; it is the emotional resonances of these encounters that give the rapid, intuitive flow of ideas. Creative persons at their peak do not merely labor over putting together their ideas; the new ideas come together as if by magnetism, carried by the emotional energy internalized from experience in excited attention spaces.
Other Research in Sociology of Philosophy
A pioneer of the field was C. Wright Mills (1942/1969), who studied the American pragmatists by assembling a portrait of their social origins and sketching the organizational context of the reform of American universities which took place during their lifetime. An impressive recent performance, using the model of the Strong Programme in SSK, is Kusch’s (1995) analysis of the movement in German philosophy in the early twentieth century, which formulated the doctrine, subsequently widely accepted, that psychological arguments are an illegitimate way of dealing with philosophical problems, since the latter have their autonomous logic. Kusch shows that this anti-psychologism movement occurred in just those circles in German philosophy faculties which were opposing the development of new laboratories of experimental psychology; in response to the ‘role hybridization’ of physiological researchers moving into philosophical chairs which created the new specialized discipline of psychology (Ben-David and Collins, 1966), the anti-psychologism movement was a ‘role-purification’ movement to throw the invaders out.
A number of other recent studies in the sociology of philosophy are collected in Kusch (2000). Chew (2000) broadens beyond the usual Eurocentric focus to show the strategies adopted by philosophers in China and Japan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as contrasting responses to dominance of the world intellectual scene by the philosophies of the European colonial powers. Henry (2000) analyzed the formation of Afro-Caribbean philosophy in the aftermath of colonialism. Bryant (1996) showed how the changing political conditions, as the ancient Greek city-states lost autonomy to the Hellenistic empires, shut off venues for public debate, and motivated the creation of inwardly oriented moral philosophies withdrawing from public life.
Most reflexively oriented towards analyzing ourselves—the movement in the late twentieth century producing a sociology of scientific knowledge and a sociology of philosophy—is Steve Fuller (2000). Taking the eminence of Thomas Kuhn as the paradigm case of success in the current intellectual world, Fuller shows how Kuhns theory of scientific revolutions (Kuhn, 1962) was created in the academic circles at the end of the Second World War which were most centrally involved in government-funded ‘Big Science’ supported by the Cold War military buildup. Kuhns internalist sociology of science extols an image of autonomously driven paradigm revolutions modeled on historically earlier, individual scientific researchers who had been made anachronistic by Big Science; thus Kuhns imagery provided ideological legitimation and diversion from the current character of science increasingly driven not by paradigm interests but by external political-military concerns. Fuller calls for an ‘external reflexivity’, weaving critique of the social grounding of intellectuals (including late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century philosophers and sociologists of science) back into the internally reflexive paradigm struggles within the intellectual world.
In terms of the theory of intellectual attention spaces, Fuller draws attention to the ways in which struggles can cut across the levels of the lay-oriented politics that affects the material bases of intellectual life, as well as the level of struggles over slices of the intellectual attention space. Factions inside the attention space (such as SSK, and now the sociology of philosophy) can be filled not merely along lines of internal opposition, but also along lines which propose to create factions that can contend over state political power. Philosophers can also aspire to export their reflexivity into the larger political arena. Whether they are successful at that, to be sure, will be determined by larger political conditions, not by the local conditions of argument inside intellectual networks. But politically successful or not, Fuller points to a further layer of reflexive self-understanding for the sociology of philosophies and other intellectual positions: sociologically examining the conditions under which politically ambitious factions become prominent within intellectual attention space.